aren’t being undone by accompanying increases in the energy costs of the
other three phases.
Rather than estimating in detail how much power the perpetual produc-
tion and transport of all stuff requires, let’s first cover just a few common
examples: drink containers, computers, batteries, junk mail, cars, and
houses. This chapter focuses on the energy costs of phases R and P. These
energy costs are sometimes called the “embodied” or “embedded” energy
of the stuff – slightly confusing names, since usually that energy is neither
literally embodied nor embedded in the stuff.
Let’s assume you have a coke habit: you drink five cans of multinational
chemicals per day, and throw the aluminium cans away. For this stuff, it’s
the raw material phase that dominates. The production of metals is energy
intensive, especially for aluminium. Making one aluminium drinks-can
needs 0.6 kWh. So a five-a-day habit wastes energy at a rate of 3 kWh/d.
As for a 500 ml water bottle made of PET (which weighs 25 g), the
embodied energy is 0.7 kWh – just as bad as an aluminium can!
The average Brit throws away 400 g of packaging per day – mainly food
packaging. The embodied energy content of packaging ranges from 7 to
20 kWh per kg as we run through the spectrum from glass and paper to
plastics and steel cans. Taking the typical embodied energy content to be
10 kWh/kg, we deduce that the energy footprint of packaging is 4 kWh/d.
A little of this embodied energy is recoverable by waste incineration, as
we’ll discuss in Chapter 27.
Making a personal computer costs 1800 kWh of energy. So if you buy a
new computer every two years, that corresponds to a power consumption
of 2.5 kWh per day.
The energy cost of making a rechargeable nickel-cadmium AA battery,
storing 0.001 kWh of electrical energy and having a mass of 25 g, is 1.4 kWh
(phases R and P). If the energy cost of disposable batteries is similar, throwing
away two AA batteries per month uses about 0.1 kWh/d. The energy
cost of batteries is thus likely to be a minor item in your stack of energy